Carnival Sunshine is not a new ship; it's a completely refurbished 17-year-old ship -- formerly Carnival Destiny -- with an array of new features that include bars, restaurants and entertainment venues, 182 new cabins and even a new partial deck.
In fact, if you sailed on Destiny, you would be hard-pressed to recognize where it ends and Sunshine begins because the changes are so profound. (A number of crew we spoke to couldn't recognize the old ship.) A few features remain -- the bizarre copper-colored corrugated iron structures on the areas leading to the corridors and the palm tree designs that punctuate the spaces between cabins -- but otherwise, the ship is all Sunshine.
In 2012, Carnival decided to overhaul Destiny to include all of the elements of the "Fun Ship 2.0" program, the half-billion-dollar fleetwide identity program that focuses on food, booze and entertainment. So, in April 2013, it went into dry dock in Italy for its $155 million, 49-day transformation.
It emerged in May, a little heavier at 102,853 tons, and with more capacity at 3,006 passengers. The makeover was so extreme that Carnival renamed it Sunshine. The changes were not just cosmetic: Carnival also replaced the elevators, air-conditioning units, electrical stations and laundry machines. The new equipment is designed to reduce fuel consumption as part of Carnival's attempts to move to a greener fleet.
So what's the "new" ship like?
The Fun Ship 2.0 blueprint was laid down first on Carnival Magic in 2011, then Carnival Breeze in June 2012. Although Sunshine isn't a Dream-class ship, it does contain almost all of the elements found on Magic and Breeze: low-commitment, high-energy offerings that include 20-minute standup comedy routines, 30-minute production shows and fast-food sushi, burgers and burritos. The dining and drinking include a burger counter designed by spiky-haired Food Network personality Guy Fieri, a rolled-to-order Mexi-Cali burrito stop and a pair of Caribbean beach bars with mascots (RedFrog and BlueIguana) and booze specialties (rum and tequila, respectively).
To offset these temples to unhealthy eating, there are two new Asian restaurants onboard: Bonsai Sushi, a for-fee, sit-down Japanese restaurant, and Ji Ji, a truly outstanding restaurant offering pan-Asian cuisine.
The new entertainment offerings, which include three up-tempo production shows, have been scaled up in terms of impressive lighting, outstanding graphics and sound, and pared down in terms of running length.
The design throughout is also radically different from that found on the old Carnival ships, as former designer Joe Farcus' garish color schemes give way to the more understated designs of Hamburg-based Partner Design. Colors are subtle, and the palette throughout -- from the main dining rooms to the corridors and cabins -- is distinctly muted. Certain areas -- the corridor on Deck 5 with Fahrenheit 555, the Piano Bar, Ocean Plaza and the main dining rooms -- could actually do with more decor, as they're so featureless.
What you come away with is the distinct feeling that there has been a quiet revolution going on, with a triumph of style over tack. In fact, there are certain areas of the ship, such as the Library Bar, Java Blue, Havana Bar, Fahrenheit 555 and Ji Ji, where you'd be hard pressed to tell this was even a Carnival ship. These changes point the way to where the line is going -- attracting a clientele with more sophisticated tastes and palates, and one that expects variety and quality.
Having said that, Sunshine still attracts Carnival's bread-and-butter passengers: "Middle America," as President and C.E.O. Gerry Cahill describes them. They're the unpretentious, highly social, price-conscious cruisers out for organized fun. (The relentless emphasis on fun at all times is still ever-present onboard.)
Carnival is clearly listening to passengers, too: the adults-only Serenity space, for example, which sits next to the waterslides on Breeze, has been placed at the opposite end of the ship on Sunshine. It also has been significantly expanded to cope with an increased demand for adults-only spaces (ironic, considering the line carries more kids than any other line). And Cucina del Capitano is not located under the basketball court, as it is on Breeze, so diners no longer have to compete with the din above.
Kids are warmly welcomed nearly everywhere on the ship and will find no shortage of things to do.
The two biggest changes are WaterWorks, the new addition at the aft of the ship, and a completely revamped Camp Carnival, adjacent to it.
The Camp Carnival play area caters to 2- to 11-year-olds and is divided into three main sections, depending on age group. The really small ones (2- to 5-year-olds) get a little outdoor play area just for themselves and an indoor space with age-appropriate soft toys and games. The older you are, the more chairs, video games and space to hang out you get, so for 6- to 8-year-olds, video game consoles linked to plasma-screen TV's, sand art machines, spin art and themed activities are offered. For the 9- to 11-year-olds, there are more video game consoles, as well as swimming under the stars, scavenger hunts, sport challenges and various other fun activities. It's worth noting that 9- to 11-year-olds are allowed to sign themselves out of the club for any reason, but parents are encouraged to give them a cabin key or arrange a meeting place.
Like all "Fun Ships," Carnival Sunshine offers educational specialty programs, including WaterColors (art), ExerSeas (exercise), H2Ocean (science), SeaNotes (music) and EduCruise (geography). Children can also decorate custom-designed Camp Carnival T-shirts, get their faces painted for themed activities, play bingo, make their own pizza and build stuffed animals in the Beary Cuddly Workshop. (All profits go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.) Rates start at $19.95 and vary, depending on the outfits and accouterments selected.
Scheduled activities generally run until 10 p.m., after which Night Owl parties -- late-night group baby-sitting -- are available for $6.75 per hour, per kid (plus 15 percent gratuity per child). There are also the occasional theme parties (beach, Mardi Gras), which run from 10 p.m. to midnight and cost $13 per child (plus 15 percent gratuity).
There are limited activities for the 2-and-younger set. There are designated times when little ones can use the facilities if supervised by their parents. Children who are not toilet trained cannot use Sunshine's WaterWorks facilities, pools or hot tubs.
Carnival also requires kids 11 and younger to wear colored wristbands throughout the cruise, indicating their muster stations.
Older kids get their own, separate rooms (adjacent to Camp Carnival): Circle C for the 12- to 14-year-olds and Club O2 for the 15- to 17-year-olds. Circle C lounge has a dance floor, video jukebox, music, video game consoles and Fun Hub stations. Adjacent to Circle C is Club O2, a teen club where older kids can make new friends and dance to the latest hits cranked out from the D.J. booth. Designed as the ultimate "chill" space, this room also includes a soda bar, video game consoles, Fun Hub stations and a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. The clubs are generally open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on days in port and from noon to 1 a.m. on sea days. Kids can come and go as they please, but parents are ultimately responsible for their kids. Both Circle C and Club O2 programs have a dedicated director who oversees a host of activities, including late-night movies, video game contests, trivia and scavenger hunts -- and ensures not too much mischief goes on.
The ship also offers numerous kid-friendly culinary choices, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and 24-hour pizza and soft-serve ice cream, available in the casual poolside Lido Marketplace restaurant. The main dining rooms have a children's menu with daily junior specials each night. Kids can also "dine under the stars" with the youth staff (allowing parents to dine on their own).
Carnival attracts an outgoing set of North American couples, families and multigenerational groups. The average passenger is in the 40's. Despite attempts to expand to other markets -- new ships typically launch in Europe, and the line tried hard to attract an international clientele -- more than 90 percent of its passenger base is American. Carnival will have no ships in Europe in 2014. The international exception is Carnival Spirit, which has been "Aussified" and is proving a big hit Down Under, so much so that a second ship, Carnival Legend, will be redeployed in Sydney (from the U.K.) from September 2014.
During the day, beachy or port-specific attire is the norm. Carnival's evening dress code is typically "cruise casual," but on two nights during the voyage "cruise elegant" eveningwear is suggested. On cruise casual nights, the line recommends sport slacks, khakis, jeans (no cutoffs), long dress shorts and collared sports shirts for men, and casual dresses, casual skirts or pants and blouses, summer dresses, capri pants, dress shorts and jeans (no cutoffs) for women. Cruise elegant dress means dress slacks, dress shirts and sports coats (suggested, not required) for men and cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses for women. Men might dress in suits and ties or tuxedos, while women might wear evening gowns.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The headline-grabbing addition to Sunshine is Serenity, a triple-deck adults-only retreat, complete with hot tubs, cabanas, bars and a triple-height waterfall and plunge pool. It's by far the biggest adults-only area Carnival has on any of its ships -- and it's both welcome and puzzling at the same time.
It's puzzling because this massive piece of real estate (it also takes up the whole of the front of the ship on those top three decks) is adults-only, while Carnival touts itself as the ultimate family cruise line. (Incidentally, it is: it carried more than 750,000 kids in 2012 -- far more than any other line.) The point is, the line has effectively banned kids from a vast area of the ship. According to Carnival, parents need this space to get away from their kids, and many couples also seek a quiet spot.
Having said that, it's a gorgeous space and beautifully designed, from the triple-height waterfall and plunge pool to the cabanas and dozens of deck chairs. And, if you have no kids (or if they are safely being entertained in Camp Carnival), it's a wonderful spot to get away from it all. It never seems to get crowded and becomes quieter and calmer the farther up and toward the front you venture. Plus, unlike most other lines, Carnival levies no outrageous charges for the hire of cabanas: everything is free. It's not particularly well patrolled -- there are a couple of discreet signs stating "Over 21's Only" -- and there were a few kids who dared to venture in, but the majority were older.
Serenity overlooks the main Lido Deck, which features one pool that is way too small for the number of passengers onboard. It's set up like an amphitheater (which makes sense, as it's where outdoor movies and TV shows are shown on a 270-square-foot screen over the pool), in tiered seating, peppered with hot tubs and rows and rows of blue loungers. The pool is flanked by the aforementioned quartet of branded bars and restaurants -- Guy's Burger Joint, the BlueIguana Cantina, BlueIguana Tequila Bar and RedFrog Rum Bar.
The space doubles as the venue for evening deck parties and daytime entertainment offerings (like the best mixed drink contest). A D.J. also regularly spins tracks overlooking this spot on sunny sea days. Behind him (on Deck 11) is one of two outdoor smoking areas (the other is on the outdoor port side of the Lobby Deck); it's been banned from every other bar and venue.
Look out for the surreal towel animal army that materializes on the sun deck one morning of each cruise. Even the most cynical cruiser will admire the whimsy.
One deck below Serenity is the Cloud 9 Spa (open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily). With 15 treatment rooms, this is one of the larger spas in the fleet, and it's run by Steiner. It has a Thermal Suite with sauna, steam room, tropical shower and heated stone loungers with lovely sea views, which are all available for a fee of $35 (free if you are in one of the Spa Cabins). Other treatments available include a DIY Scrub Experience, where you select an herbal blend and a "mixologist" creates a customized body scrub, and ZSpa, a teen spa program that offers a line of treatments designed specifically for 13- to 17-year-olds. Mother-daughter and father-son treatments are also available. Spa treatments include massages, facials and Botox. A 50-minute aroma stone massage is $159, one treatment of acupuncture $150; a 50-minute Couples' Villa Massage costs from $269 per couple.
The spa leads to the fitness center, which offers all the latest cardio and weight-training equipment. The fitness center serves as the location for a wide range of instructor-led exercise classes. Basic ones, such as stretching, are included in the cost of the cruise; Pilates, yoga, boot camp and spinning are $12 a class.
There is also a salon attached, offering cuts and men's grooming. Look for deals on port days, such as a free haircut ($35 value) thrown into a $95 "Gents Pamper Package."
At the aft of the ship lie WaterWorks and SportSquare. Anyone who sailed on Destiny might well do a double take, as this is where the aft pool, complete with retractable glass roof, was positioned. As part of the refit, the pool was removed, Havana Bar was put in its place, and a whole new floor was constructed on which to put WaterWorks and SportSquare.
WaterWorks features 40 interactive water features, including the PowerDrencher, a 150-gallon tipping bucket, and five different slides, including the new racing-themed 235-foot Speedway Splash and a 334-foot-long and 47-foot-high Twister slide, the longest in the "Fun Ship" fleet. Passengers must be at least 42 inches tall to ride the slides. There is also a SplashZone for younger kids.
Sunshine's SportSquare includes a ropes course, mini-golf course, a basketball court, jogging track, table tennis, Foosball and pool tables. A running track (or Sky Track) goes around SportSquare and the basketball court, with seven laps equaling one mile.
The atrium -- the midship space that typically is one of Carnival's defining elements -- has soft orange decor with a stylish, shiny metal-ball centerpiece, overhanging the main bar. It's a triple-deck space, which is criss-crossed with stairways and flanked on one side by glass-fronted elevators.
Guest services, the shore excursion desk and a self-service kiosk to check your bill are located on the first deck of the atrium (Deck 3).
Decks 4 and 5, which overlook the Atrium, feature all the obligatory boutiques that sell jewelry, duty-free booze and cigarettes, clothes and branded items. Cherry on Top, an ultra-indulgent sweet shop, done up in candy-cane red and white, sells all manner of sweets and some branded souvenir items, tux rentals and flowers.
The Ocean Plaza is an open area where you'll find Alchemy Bar and Taste, which serves small selections of some of the dishes in the specialty restaurants (to tempt you to make a booking). In the center is an ill-defined area, which is used for live music performances, but as Carnival has opened the whole area up, it means that the performance completely dominates the space.
The ubiquitous Park West auction house sells various pieces of art onboard in art auctions that take place in the lobby on Deck 2.
Every available bit of wall space seems to be taken up with pictures of passengers on Deck 4 of the Atrium space. This is Pixels Gallery, where you can buy a wildly overpriced pic of yourself and your loved ones. If you're looking for your own mug, a key card-activated facial-recognition system helps. Directly below is Dreams Studio, where you can set up a cheesy shot.
There are no self-service laundry facilities.
Carnival Sunshine has traded the traditional Internet cafe for bow-to-stern Wi-Fi at various "Fun Hubs" -- Web stations that are found in several public spaces around the ship. Pay-as-you go Internet is $0.75 a minute, but you can bring the cost down to $0.33 if you buy a 480-minute package. There is a $3.95 activation fee the first time you log on. There is one Fun Hub beside Java Blue, which allows you to get your caffeine fix and surf, and another on the Lobby Deck. What's impressive is Carnival appears to have cracked the curse of onboard Wi-Fi; we found it quick and efficient. Funville@sea is a fee-free Intranet service providing access to onboard activities and events, dining menus, basic news and weather reports for the next destination.
The ship's library, which doubles as the Library Bar, has a small selection of bestsellers and travel books, as well as a good selection of Hasbro-branded games (e.g. Monopoly and Battleship). All can be checked out with the help of a librarian (who doubles as the lobby bar bartender on Deck 3). Tabs on book borrowers are kept via their Sail and Sign cards.
There is a small medical facility on Deck 0.
The vast majority of cabins come in between 185 and 220 square feet, including insides (632), oceanviews (308) and balconies (508, verandahs from 35 to 75 square feet).
If you want the larger cabins, the oceanviews with obstructed views on Deck 3 (Category 4J), oceanviews with windows (Categories 6A, 6B, 6C and 6D) and Scenic Ocean Views with windows (Category 6J) come in at 220 square feet.
There are also 55 suites in four categories, but they are not the over-the-top style of suites favored by many of its rivals: no lacquer dining room tables, hot tubs on verandahs or wet bars on Sunshine. This ship has 13 fully accessible cabins and 19 modified for wheelchair users.
The big change on Sunshine is the design: muted decor of whites and browns with blue carpeting and pillows has replaced the bright orange and pink found on previous ships. (The line has not gone as far as painting over the palm trees that adorn the spaces between cabins, though.)
You can also tell it's an old ship, despite the refurb, but that's a good thing: the corridors are noticeably wider than on new-builds.
Standard inside, oceanview and balcony cabins each feature two twin beds that form a king when combined. Category 1A insides have bunks and decent storage options, including couches with inset drawers, bedside tables with shelves, and closets. There are two 120-volt U.S.-style outlets and one Euro-style 230-volt outlet atop a small vanity in each cabin, under which you'll find an ottoman-style seat.
Flat-screen TV's are installed at an alarming angle against the wall, but they swivel so you can view them from the couch or bed. But note, unlike the TV's on the newer ships, they are not interactive. (You have to go to guest services or use one of the very nifty touch-screen kiosks dotted around the ship to see your bill.)
Hidden behind each TV are two more U.S.-style outlets. (Bulky cell phone plugs probably only fit there.) Other in-cabin amenities include safes, robes, chintzy phones (which have not been replaced in the refit) and hair dryers (hidden away in a drawer by the vanity in each cabin). Only higher-grade cabins and suites have mini-bars.
Bathrooms are functional with an oddly placed outlet for razors (look up) and a magnifying mirror. Showers feature massaging heads and the dreaded clingy shower curtains. There are also large dispensers with generic shower gel and shampoo.
Carnival's famous free basket of toiletries is always a welcome sight. Products might include cough drops or mini bottles of shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste.
Balconies each feature a pair of metal-and-plastic mesh chairs and a small, acrylic-topped table. These verandahs are a decent depth, so you can actually fit your legs between the chair and the balcony glass.
Some balcony cabins, including those situated around the aft, feature extended 60-square-foot balconies (Categories 8M 8N). Category 9B has wraparound 75-square-foot verandahs. Category 9C has wraparound (wake and port- or starboard-facing) 75-square-foot wraparound balcony.
There are 208 connecting cabins across different decks (some with two beds, some with three).For passengers looking for a bit more space, 275-square-foot (with 65-square-foot balconies) Ocean Suites might be worth the splurge. These add larger, separate sitting areas, two TV's, more closet space and bathrooms with tubs.
The 345-square-foot Grand Suites, which have 85-square-foot balconies, are each one big room with a larger L-shaped sofa and a large closet in a separate room adjoining the bathroom. The bathroom includes a vanity desk and sink. They're designed with marble-topped surfaces, full bathrooms with double-width shower-whirlpool tub combos, bidets, double sinks, marble flooring and mosaic tiles on the walls.
The two Captain's Suites, side-by-side at the front of the ship, come in at a hefty 500 square feet with 200-square-foot balconies. They are situated just above the bridge on Deck 9, have two rooms and two bathrooms, and are entirely glass-fronted. They also have walk-in closets and whirlpool tubs, as well as large sofas, which can fold down, so you could fit as many as five people in each.
Passengers staying in suites get V.I.P. check-in.
Sunshine saw the addition of 92, the Cloud 9 Spa cabins, which are clustered around the ship's spa, which shares the name. The spa is located on Deck 10, but the cabins span Decks 9, 10 and 11.
The accommodations, which come in a few versions -- 185-square-foot oceanviews and balconies (with 35-square-foot verandahs) and 275-square-foot suites (with 65-square-foot verandahs) -- are laid out exactly the same as other comparable non-spa cabins. The difference comes by way of design tweaks (green accents) and proximity to the spa. Passengers in Cloud 9 accommodations also get a range of Elemis toiletries, fee waivers for a trio of fitness classes and access to the spa's thermal suite, which features various tiled rooms with steam and dry heat.
Carnival doesn't have the big-name Broadway shows that other lines have secured for their ships. Instead, it has opted to bring its own interpretation to the typical "journey-through-the-classics" cruise-ship revue shows.
Carnival made a pretty heavy investment in sound and lights for its shows on Breeze and has taken it a step further on Sunshine with an ultra-HD graphics package beamed onto a vast screen, which the performers use as a backdrop and part of their show. We watched Epic Rock, which included flames, cages, giant black wings, crumbling brick walls and exploding suns, beefing up the music (and at times almost swamping it, the graphics are so stunning).
The show was extraordinary. Scary, apocalyptic and whimsical all at the same time, we've never seen anything quite like it. And the music was pretty good, too (if you like hard rock).
There are four themed shows, which run about 30 to 40 minutes each: Latin Nights, Motor City, Epic Rock and Studio VIP.
"Hasbro, the Game Show," an interactive game show-themed show, appears on Sunshine. Classic board games like Connect 4 and Operation are adapted for the stage with lots of audience participation. It's fun, if you're prepared to get involved.
All these shows take place in the Liquid Lounge, which doubles as the main 800-seat Theater. Some logistical issues mean it doesn't quite work. Because the room was designed as a theater and is two stories, it's impossible to create an intimate atmosphere, with D.J. and dance floor marooned in a vast space.
RedFrog Pub, a Caribbean-themed watering hole -- which has Carnival's own brew, ThirstyFrog Red -- also appears on Sunshine. There's an offshoot on the main pool deck, RedFrog Rum Bar, with BlueIguana Tequila Bar (another Carnival staple), opposite that. The Piano Bar entertains the crowd with sing-alongs, comedians and pianist performances. The Limelight Lounge also makes an appearance and doubles as the Punchliner Comedy Club.
The Library Bar is just off the Atrium, which would usually mean it would be competing with the noise from there, but sound-proofed doors give it a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. Self-serve wine dispensers allow you to sample six different wines from $2.25 for a 2 oz. taster, to $15 for a glass (6 oz.). There's also a bar, which is staffed at night.
The port side of the Casino, which is relatively large, allows for smoking. It features all the usual machines and is connected to the EA Sports Bar.
So what's new onboard Sunshine?
In terms of watering holes, just two make their debut: Alchemy and Havana Bar. The former is a big miss, the latter a huge hit.
Weirdly stationed at one end of the huge, open space that is now the Ocean Plaza, Alchemy doesn't work on a couple of levels. The first and most important reason is that it's not its own room; it's just a space, and it has to compete -- unsuccessfully -- with the live bands in the center of the room. Second, the design seems only half thought out. People in lab coats and a wood-paneled backdrop working in what is meant to resemble an "Olde Apothecary" needs to be followed through with the main bar -- which is just like any other bar on any other ship. The only cool thing about it is its backlit menus (which would be a whole lot cooler in a darker room).On the plus side, the Havana Bar is a really well-thought-out space that incorporates the two new specialty restaurants on either side, as well as the main bar itself.
The space itself is large -- the whole of Deck 5 aft -- with lots of different types of seating, some against the aft windows. In the middle is the bar, which serves some delicious for free Cuban nibbles during the day such as empanadas. In the evening, the Latin music is turned up and the lighting turned down; the two specialty restaurants are curtained off, and the bar begins to resemble more of what it's meant to be: a Cuban nightspot. Once the specialty restaurants have finished serving (from about 10.30 p.m.), the area behind the bar becomes a dance floor, with dancers busting some fine salsa and meringue moves until the early hours.
The Warehouse, just off the main lobby on Deck 5, features the latest video and arcade games and is mainly aimed at teens.
There are numerous shore excursions, including a handful of teens-only ones.
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but it can be adjusted at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills.
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